The art of aging sex

Roger Angle, a longtime contributor to the New York Times, died 2 years ago at age 101. Just a few years earlier (at age 93), he contributed to an article in the New York Times titled “Summers end but our desires last a lifetime.” He wrote: “Getting old is the second biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.”[1] His words came back to me when (at almost 95 years) I came across the artwork of Annette Nieukerk, a figurative artist in her 70s.[2] She explains that her series of paintings, entitled “The Long Road Home,” evokes the sensuality and desire that can exist in advancing years, with the intensity of emotions and related intimacy pulling two people together.[2]

While Nieukerk’s artistic project is boldly visual to awaken the deep yearning for connection buried in the human psyche, my work in sexual medicine and sexual rehabilitation had been more technical and guidance-oriented toward engaging in a sensuous adoration of each other’s bodies, replacing the stereotyped focus on coital attempts, which become unsatisfying or unachievable because of physical or physiological reasons. Sensuous adoration of each other’s body is a form of art—awakening sensuality and intimacy pulling two people together. 

Imagine the scenario: the couple, perhaps in their pyjamas, preferably in a dimly lit room to avoid anxieties by immediate self-conscious nakedness, resting comfortably on their bed, holding hands, and staring at the ceiling, talking quietly. When there is a brief pause, one of them quietly asks: “may I touch your body . . . it feels so warm and comforting . . . perhaps . . . may I touch your lovely breast? . . . I may need a bit of guidance . . . would you help?” The sensitivity arises out of the art of asking for permission to touch, requesting guidance, following the guidance, providing feedback, and following the path to exploration of what is sensuous and desirable to both partners, gradually leading to fulfillment of various levels of sex physiological responses that are realistically reachable. 

This approach requires the sensitivity to understand the potential limitations in reaching some responses or in the ability to offer desired stimulation because of medical conditions, physical constraints, or medication side effects. The art also requires some understanding of the importance of offering guidance to the partner, with enthusiasm and without shame. To sensually adore and to be sensually awakened to genuine adoration, to be respected without the anxiety of having to reach a specific goal, to break away from stereotypes of youthful bedroom behavior, yes, that requires a bit of practice and artisanship.

I believe there is a parallel between Nieukerk’s unique visual approach and the learned art to sensuous physical adoration. Both hold the potential to achieve the much-desired intimacy that pulls two people together; something relevant in the art of aging sex and in the loving relationship with a disabled partner.[3]
—George Szasz, CM, MD 

1.    Renkl M. Summers end, but our desires last a lifetime. New York Times. Accessed 19 April 2024. (login required).
2.    Nieukerk A. The long road home. Accessed 19 April 2024.
3.    Szasz G. Supporting sexual health and intimacy in care facilities. BCMJ Blog. 9 February 2024.

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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